Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 7:1-7; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mk 1:29-39

While each of today’s readings possesses a compelling aspect to develop into a homily, I’ve chosen the gospel story of the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law. I suppose I chose that because my interest was recently piqued by a homily commentary I read that expressed how terrible it was that the mother-in-law winds up serving the guests right after she has been cured. She should be the center of the whole celebration rather than taking care of others. Of course, that homily commentary misses much about the gospel passage itself. You can’t read or interpret the story according to our own cultural presuppositions. It’s not meant to be a literal story in itself; rather it’s a story that presents an outline for catechesis. The healing of the mother-in-law, which serves as a model for how each of us is healed by Jesus’ resurrection, shows that resurrection/salvation is followed by showing our thanks through ministry and service. We have been healed and saved, yes, and our proper response is to serve God’s holy People.

In no place is that connection brought out more clearly than in the Epilogue of John’s gospel. There, after the Resurrection, Jesus says to Peter, "Do you love me?" To which Peter responds, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." And Jesus says simply, "Feed my lambs!" Two more times the same dialogue repeats itself with similar responses: "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep." (21:15-17) This is one aspect which has attracted the almost universal interest of scholars: why is there such a stressing of ministry and service in all the Resurrection accounts? Ordinarily that dimension shouldn’t be stressed. For such an earth-shattering event as the Resurrection, the narrative should focus on the wonder and astonishment of it all. The tendency should be to go on and on in praise of the miraculousness of this event. But the texts don’t do that. Rather they show evidence of what I mentioned earlier: they are narratives that present an outline for catechesis. The teacher is to take each of these elements and expand them into proper dimensions of Christian life.

What comes across clearly in all these accounts is the necessity of service as the proper response to the salvation we have received in Jesus’ Resurrection. That’s also the message of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. She exemplifies perfectly the Christian message: service follows Resurrection. Herein is given one of the unique aspects of Christianity as a Faith, an aspect shown in all the Resurrection accounts and mirrored in many other gospel stories afterwards. Resurrection calls forth service. Now, the one thing that essentially connects the two is that Resurrection faith itself was discovered within real acts of sharing and service.

That means that the true reality of the disciples as faithful followers of Jesus (as a community) could only be fully recaptured by imitating that process of sharing service. The full Christian faith possesses an intrinsic dynamism that it be shared. It can’t be private or individual. Christianity is a sharing, serving faith and Peter’s mother-in-law shows that perfectly.

This detour into theology and scripture research helps us better understand the dynamics of the Peter’s mother-in-law story, but it also serves as an examination of conscience for us right now.

In the perspective of this particular gospel story our very Christian faith is measured by our service to others. We all should take a hard look at ourselves and ask: what is the service that defines my Christian faith?

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